Several things have pushed the church to reform. “Being a Christian” has come to mean something very different than “one who tries to live as Jesus taught.” We often have to quickly qualify what we mean if we say that we are a Christian at all, and many people simple don't anymore. We have lived during the ascendancy of Secularism and Consumerism as the two dominant faith and belief structures in our world. Many of us hold dual allegiances there. Christianity as a culture, faith, and belief structure have become one minority among others.
Ask yourself the simple question: If my church told me not to buy something, would I abstain from buying it? If my minister told me that the laws of the land should be based in Biblical principles, what would me response be? How would I feel?
We are a people who are deeply suspicious, even of the faith we claim. This has happened in our lifetime. The reasons for this are deep and ingrained into our own lives and allegiances. This quickly begins to feel uncomfortable, political, and antagonistic.
But here lie some of our greatest places to grow. If we are to hold our faith simply and receive the myriad benefits of grace, we have to begin to ask ourselves this one simple question: Am I a follower of Jesus?
We use a number of synonyms for “follower of Jesus” including disciple, student, or Willard’s favorite: apprentice. In each case the choice is a yes or no choice. Do I intend to do what Jesus taught that I should do? Do I try to know and understand his life and teachings and apply them in my life and to what I say and teach? Do I learn from him? Do I try to do what he did?
Now obviously we are not all first century rabbis. Even his disciples saw that Jesus called them to be who they were, not merely mimics, but followers. God wants you to be like Jesus in that you are in relationship to God as a son or daughter, being loved and taught, and taking on His characteristics of love, mercy, and forgiveness, and living in the bounty of this life and kingdom.
You cannot do this without help. Jesus teaches in his last night with his disciples in John’s Gospel, chapters 14-17, that he would send a Mentor to us, to remind us of what he said and taught, to abide with us, and in whom we would abide with Jesus the Son and God the Father. This Mentor is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit abides in us and around us but is like the wind or a breath. You have to pay attention to really receive her benefits. You breathe in and out roughly 23,000 times a day without ever thinking too much about it. Your breath varies with your mood, exertion, even posture. But if you really begin to practice breathing, you can calm yourself in tense situations, increase concentration and happiness, even speed healing. You can lower stress which may help you live longer.
Learning to hear the Holy Spirit is about as difficult, but it still seems to elude most people. So here is the best training practice on record: take a Bible and find a favorite chair and take about fifteen to twenty minutes a day to ask the Spirit to speak to you as you read. Then read and pray. Talk to God and listen for the whispers of the Spirit. You will soon find that you hear God in subtle ways not just while you are sitting in the chair but throughout your days.
We practice a more formal version of this in the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer took the seven hours of the Monastic Hours of Prayer and collapsed them into these two. Over the centuries, we have added back Noontime Prayer and Compline.
You can find the Offices online at a couple of websites, but I recommend http://www.missionstclare.com as the most reliable and longest standing. There really is no substitute for practice. So we will close tonight with Compline. For now, I bid you all blessings in your small groups and see you at 7:20 sharp with Books of Common Prayer turned to page 179.
When we, all of us and each of us, are grounded in personal devotion and relationship with God the times ahead will be a flood that we are ready for with our foundations set on the Rock of Jesus and taught by the Holy Spirit. And it will give us the discernment to engage questions of discipleship around buying and citizenship not as neither blind followers of Secular Consumerism-Nationalism nor blind followers of the institutional church, but as sighted and wise followers of Jesus.